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Britain should stand by its detained Jerusalem Consulate workers, as it did for those in Tehran

January 28, 2014 at 3:59 am

On Sunday 2nd January, two Palestinian workers for the British Consulate in Jerusalem were arrested by the Israeli authorities. The two have since been accused of aiding suspected Hamas supporters, and charged with weapons trafficking. A British foreign office official confirmed the arrest by the Israeli authorities on Sunday evening.

This is not the first time workers for a British embassy or consulate have been arrested. During the post-election riots in Tehran in the summer of 2009, nine Iranian embassy employees had been arrested, accused of interfering and stirring up unrest after the Iranian elections. The British government reacted almost immediately, with strong statements of rebuke for the Iranian authorities; the then Foreign Secretary David Miliband, called for the “immediate release” of its embassy workers. A number of high ranking EU officials all lined up to condemn Iran.

Equally, the British media were in uproar as the story unfolded over the next few months, calling on the ‘repressive Iranian regime’ to be brought to account.  In an interview with the BBC, Miliband went on to vent his “cold anger” in the way the Iranian staff members had been treated and claimed that he was working very closely with his British ambassador to Iran to ensure that they were released. Suffice to say, relations were at an all-time low between the two countries, as British officials tried their utmost to pressure Iran into complying with their requests.

Now, compare this to the lukewarm statement from a British Foreign & Commonwealth (FCO) official, whose only apparent explanation was that there was “no connection” with the men’s jobs as maintenance workers at the British consul. There is, thus far, no outpouring of concern for the Palestinian workers and whether they are being treated fairly and justly at the hands of the Israelis, who are renowned for their arbitrary detention methods. There have been no calls for the immediate release of the workers, or indeed, any appeals to ensure the workers are given the necessary legal representation and a fair trial. A few of the mainstream media have covered this story, but, for whatever reasons, none matched the media indignation that followed the detention of the Iranian consulate workers.

There could be one of two factors at work here: either the Tory-LibDem Coalition government are fearful of their Israeli counterparts, and having seen relations plunge to an all-time low over the last year after the Mabhouh assassination and use of British passports, the Freedom Flotilla massacre and more recently the declaration by British Prime Minister, David Cameron, that the Gaza Strip is a “giant open prison camp“. In the circumstances, the government appears unwilling to “rock the boat”, now that relations are somewhat on the mend; or, it can be argued that the British government is once again reaffirming the common perception that a Palestinian life is worthless and easily replaceable.

This is certainly a test case for the British government to see if it has the ability and bloody-mindedness to deal with foreign governments even-handedly. As the previous Labour government rightly went forward to protect its Tehran Consulate workers from a serious miscarriage of justice, so too the current Coalition government, should do everything possible to safeguard the safety of all its employees from the oppressive Israeli authorities, notorious for their serial disdain and abuse of Palestinian human rights. Currently, there are over 130 Palestinians serving sentences of 20 years or more in Israeli prisons; many have not been given fair hearings and are subjected to appallingly inhumane prison conditions.

Accordingly, the British government should ensure that their Consulate workers do not become just another statistic in Israel’s arbitrary criminal justice system. They should urgently seek a fair and open hearing for them before they too become victims of Israeli injustice. Above all the Coalition Government should uphold the age-old British legal tradition of presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.